December 13, 2010

Eating to Manage Your Holiday Stress? You Are Not Alone.

American Psychological Association offers resources to manage stress and promote health during holidays

WASHINGTON During the holiday season it can be difficult to keep to a healthy diet, even for those most dedicated to healthy foods and activity. In addition to the ongoing temptation of cookies and candies, many Americans experience heightened stress during the holidays, which can result in unhealthy management strategies, such as overeating. The American Psychological Association’s 2010 Stress in America survey found that 40 percent of adults surveyed reported overeating or eating unhealthy foods because of stress in the past month.

The survey, which was conducted online by Harris Interactive in August 2010, also showed that Americans appear to be caught in a vicious cycle where they don’t think they have the time or willpower to make the lifestyle or behavior changes necessary to manage their stress in healthier ways. Unhealthy eating is one reaction to stress that can affect both parents and children. According to the survey, 27 percent of overweight children reported eating to make themselves feel better when they are stressed. Children also report awareness of their parents’ stress. Ninety-one percent of children report that they know their parent is stressed, however 69 percent of parents report that they think their stress has a slight impact or no impact on their children. And children who say their parents are always stressed are more likely to report having a great deal of stress themselves than those who say their parents are never stressed (17 percent vs. 2 percent).

Children model their parents’ behaviors, including those related to managing stress. Parents who deal with holiday stress in unhealthy ways by overeating or drinking to excess, risk passing those behaviors on to their children. Alternatively, parents who cope with stress in healthy ways can not only promote better adjustment and well-being for themselves, but also promote the formation of critically important habits and skills in children. By taking small, manageable steps to a healthier lifestyle, families can establish and work toward goals to be psychologically and physically fit this holiday season and throughout the year. 

For additional information on holiday stress and how to manage stress, visit APA's Help Center. And, follow APA on Twitter and read APA’s Mind/Body Health blog.

To request an interview with a psychologist about the effects of holiday stress and strategies for managing that stress, contact Angel Brownawell by email or Sophie Bethune by email.

Methodology

The 2010 Stress in America Survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Interactive on behalf of the American Psychological Association between August 3 and 27, 2010, among 1,134 adults aged 18+ who reside in the U.S. including 100 adults who are parents of children aged 8 – 17. In addition to the national sample, an oversample of 937 adults who are parents of children aged 8 – 17 also were interviewed for a total of 1,037 parents. A YouthQuery survey also was conducted online between August 18 and 24, 2010, among 1,136 young people aged 8 – 17. No estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

The American Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world’s largest association of psychologists. APA’s membership includes more than 150,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants, and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession, and as a means of promoting health, education, and human welfare.